Yeast #4: Cuban Bread

043Nothing like the last minute.

I’ve had a resolution this year to get over my phobia of working with yeast.  My goal was to make one thing with yeast each month.  I had planned to make this recipe last weekend but talked myself out of it in favor of other tasks.   Today is the last day of April so today was the day.

Unlike my other projects, this one was super fast.  This recipe took about 2 hours from start to finish.  The nice thing about that is you can have the idea and the actual bread on the same day.

My quest started with several “no knead” recipes.  I picked them, not because I am against kneading.  I like kneading.  I picked them because they used small amounts of yeast and cold water and then rose over a very slow period of time (24 or so hours).  Because you started with cold water, there was no way to kill the yeast which has been my problem before.  The down side is you start on one day and have bread the next so there’s no instant gratification.

In January, it was pizza dough.  In February and March, it was lovely artisan loaves of plain bread and olive bread.  I was getting ready to make a transition toward recipes where liquid temperature would be an issue.  My friend Carri had a recipe she thought I should try:  Cuban Bread.

010Actually, truth be told, Carri thought I had gone about the whole process all wrong and I should just call off the challenge after 3 months.  Her theory was that the recipes I had chosen were harder to do than the recipe she had in mind.  She thought I should have started with her recipe.  Instead of the small amounts of yeast in the other recipes (.5 grams to 3/4 t. at most), her recipe called for TWO FULL PACKETS OF YEAST.

Two!  I think this is about 1 1/2 tablespoons of yeast.

Carri’s theory was that a recipe with this much yeast was foolproof and should have been where I started.  Maybe.  I will say that I felt better trying this recipe given my other bread experiences over the last couple of months.

I won’t provide lengthy instructions since the original site is SUPER helpful with easy instructions and pictures to help.

She is right that the recipe is easy.  Even so, I still made two mistakes that could have been bad.  Ironically they weren’t about the liquid temperature which is where I had worried.

016Both mistakes boiled down to one problem:  not reading the full recipe before starting.  To my credit, I had read it all the way through, but it was last weekend when I first had the idea to make it.  A week later, I had a general memory of the recipe.

First error from not reading:  The recipe says it takes 5-6 cups of flour, BUT the direction say to mix only 4 cups with the other ingredients at first.  The rest of the flour is incorporated — but only as much as is needed — during the kneading process.  I remembered that not all of the flour went into the bowl initially, but my brain just jumped to 5 cups.  I had all 5 cups of flour and everything else in the bowl before I read the next step that said to only put in 4 cups of flour.  I blame the way I printed out the website recipe.

026Unlike the directions, I couldn’t mix my bread for 15 minutes.  Because I had 5 cups of flour in my bowl, I had a shaggy dough in about a minute.  Now what?  I decided that maybe the time was important more than the stirring so I set a timer, walked away, and let my dough rest for 15 minutes while I checked my email.

When I came back to knead the dough, I measured out one more cup of flour to make sure I didn’t go over 6 cups total of flour.  I put just a little down on my kneading surface and got to kneading.  I needed very little flour.  By the time I was done kneading, I would guess I had mixed in 2 tablespoons at most.  If I had made the recipe correctly, I’m guessing the dough would have been quite wet and the kneading would have added in a cup or so of flour to get to exactly the same place I ended up.  I’m not sure from a chemistry standpoint if I just got lucky or if my technique, though not expected, was also ok.  I suppose a lot has to do with climate and humidity in the air and how much flour the dough can absorb.  I think I got lucky.025

My second error from not reading:  The recipe says to start the bread in a cold oven with a dish of hot water under the baking pans.  As the oven preheats to 400 degrees with the loaves inside, the loaves continue to rise and the water keeps the environment steamy and humid.  My oven was not cold.  I had been thinking my bread would rise better on top of my stove if my oven was on.  Also, I was trying to make bread when I should have been making lunch.  I decided to put a frozen pot pie into the oven thinking that in the hour it took to bake, I’d have my dough mixed together, kneaded, and resting to rise on top of the hot oven.

That all went well until I turned the page of my recipe and saw the note about the cold oven.  What to do?  I turned off my oven, opened the door wide, and let out the hot air for about 3-4 minutes.  I had boiled water so I filled my container and slid it in the oven.  When my loaves went in, the heat hadn’t totally dissipated so my compromise was to reduce the baking time a bit just to be safe.  Instead of the 45-50 minutes of the recipe, I set my timer for 40 minutes to give it a check.  At 40 minutes, I was good and my loaves were done.

So, in spite of myself, I managed to make two decent loaves of bread.  Here’s how I’d rewrite the ingredients from the original:

  • 700-840g (5-6 cups) all-purpose flour — start with only 4 cups and use remainder for kneading for a maximum of 6 cups
  • 18g (2 packages or 1 1/2 T) dry yeast — I used instant yeast
  • 15g (1 T) salt — I used regular table salt
  • 25g (2 T) sugar — I used “sugar in the raw” sugar
  • 450g (500 ml/ 2 cups) hot water
  • sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling (optional)

Here’s what I did right:  the water temperature.  I  heard the voice of my friend Natalia in my head saying it’s always better to be too cool than too hot.  Since it had two cups of water, I made sure the first cup was just slightly off cool from the tap.  The second cup was just starting to feel warm from the tap.  I figured it was really too cool overall, but I knew there would be no way I was killing the yeast.  I think Carri would say that even if I did kill some yeast, there’s so much yeast in the recipe that something has to survive.

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At any rate, the dough looked good after kneading and it did raise well on my hot stove top above my cooking pot pie.   The recipe makes two loaves and I had my risen dough cut in half, placed on two small baking sheets, and ready to go.  That’s when I realized my hot oven was a problem.  So I did my best to cool things down.

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Before going into the oven, the recipe said to slash the tops.  I’m sure there’s a better way to do that but I used my sharpest knife.  I thought the loaves looked kind of ridiculous but both looked better after being baked.  I didn’t have sesame or poppy seeds, but I did have nigella seeds which I’d purchased for some Indian cooking I wanted to try.  I decided to put nigella seeds on one of the loaves.

041Once out of the oven, the idea is you let it rest for at least an hour before eating.  I was consumed by the lovely smell of baking bread so I hacked off a corner of the plain loaf.  I slathered it with butter and a bit of apricot jam.  DELICIOUS!!

It’s different than the slow-rise recipes which have a flavor that develops over a long time of slow rising.  This bread is yeasty from the large amounts of yeast but the texture is more bread-y with small crumbs and without any large holes.  The slow-rise breads have larger air holes and a more sourdough-like flavor.  This is classic, yummy 047bread.  It’s still shaped like the lovely artisan loaves (two rounds instead of a loaf in a bread pan), so it’s a bit “artisan” in feel and crusty flavor.  If you like crust, this is a bread recipe for you.  If you prefer the inner part of bread the best, then this might not be it.  I am guessing this is going to make a lovely piece of toast.  I can’t wait!

I am eager to try the nigella seed version.  The recipe does say (THIS I remember!) that it doesn’t keep long so if you can’t eat both loaves quickly, freeze the second loaf.   I’ll be eating the nigella loaf later and digging into more of the plain one tonight and this weekend.

Happy April.  Happy yeast.  Onward.

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